30 November 2009
18 September 2009
25 August 2009
16 August 2009
11 August 2009
The flat is a rabbit warren. Nestled in a basement, beneath one of the multitude of Edinburgh University buildings along Buccleuch Place, there is little privacy. People share beds and mugs for coffee. I’m not sure how many bedrooms there are and I’ve lost count of the doors. The main hall is strewn with costumes and flyers, posters and props. And, oddly, a pile of A4 black and white portraits of myself. There is a staircase, painted black, that leads up to a solid wall.
The kitchen is miniscule and in a constant clutter. Empty beer bottles stand next to cups of old tea bags along with crumbs, wrappers, take away coffee cups and the odd dirty plate. No one lingers in the kitchen but does their business and escapes as fast as they can. Some of the girls cook breakfast, quite often eggs. The communal loaf of bread was eaten some time ago and has yet to be replaced. We drink each other's beer and pilfer each other's snacks.
Inevitably, the thespians spill out into the garden, our saving grace. We smoke or we don’t, we rehearse and recite, we banter and gossip, we stress and rant, we sip a beer or a whisky, we grab a bite or we simply lie there on the grass, exhausted and staring skywards.
Our call is at 530. We collate from all corners of Edinburgh. Those in other shows – most of us – report on the day’s performance. Some of us grab food and eat it quickly before changing into costume. The girls don their corsets, the boys their cravats. The show is, ostensibly, steam punk and the costumes reflect the style. Except for mine. I play a ghost. Ghosts are not steam punk. Well, they’re certainly less so.
Tea mugs drained, quick nips to the loo, costumes and props double-checked, and then out onto the cobbled streets towards the venue. It's a quick march.
07 August 2009
August 1996 was my first Edinburgh Fringe. I was with some friends doing a couple of Christopher Durang one-act plays. I didn't really know what was going on, but I seem to recall having a blast. I lived on tins of Castlemaine XXXX and bagels with lots of Phillie cream cheese. I fell catastrophically into debt and discovered that I'd been thrown out of university. I smoked too much. Our flat had four or five people and only two beds; I slept on the couch in the sitting room. It was the summer The Spice Girls became famous with Wannabe and that England lost to Germany in the European Cup. Independence Day came out in the cinema and we all cheered to see the White House destroyed by aliens. We drank at The Pleasance and The Pear Tree and saw more comedy than we could afford.
I was 20.
The next festival for me was 2000. It was improv comedy that time. A two bedroom flat for ten of us, further out of town but a nice neck of the woods regardless. X-Men came out that summer and once again I was broke, bouncing cheques and living on boxed wine. I didn't see many shows that time out. I still smoked. We sat around the dining room table and chatted endlessly into the wee hours, squeezing the shiny bag of wine came until the last drop splashed into our cheap, tarnished paris goblets. David Gray’s White Ladder seemed to be on repeat. Sometimes we played Goldeneye on the N64, with the curtains drawn and the light catching the smoke from time-to-time. We shared the space without ever seeming to invade each other’s space. Hoppy discovered Piemaker, which we renamed Piemaster as they master all pies. Hoppy slept half in a cupboard, with his feet sticking out into the main hall. Our venue was in the basement of a church and we made our bemused audience laugh more often than not.
The following year and back again for more improv. A soulless student residence for home and a hotel lounge bar for a venue. I’d just graduated and joined the wine trade. I was still broke. Some friends ran one of the more popular venue bars and our local served good whisky. I drank a lot of schnapps by accident and lot of whisky on purpose. The show got smaller crowds than the year before and, for whatever reason, the vibe seemed a bit strained. There were love triangles and other polygons. The dynamic altered and the passage of time perhaps wore us down. The previous summer could not be repeated, in spite of our efforts, and it all seemed a bit of an anticlimax. It was still fun, but not as much. Maybe we went looking for something we weren’t going to find.
It’s been 8 years since I’ve performed in the Fringe. I’m still broke, but less so. I don’t smoke. I’ve got a degree and a job and a pet and a flat. I can drive. I’m in better shape and I don’t drink as much. I’m ostensibly grown up, in a city full of performers who refuse to do so. We’re doing Hamlet and improv comedy. Not at the same time. Last night, my first night in town, we went to The Pleasance and The Pear Tree and Piemaster. The city’s busy, in perpetual motion. I bought a bottle of malt and we put a dent in it. I bore the cast with my old man banter, my observations of change and my tales of Fringes past. In the past I would have been drunk. Instead I slept well and woke in the morning without pain, not missing the miasma of cigarettes smoked the night before.
Today I ran around Arthur’s Seat and ate bagels in Elephants & Bagels. Their coffee’s excellent and their wifi connection is free. Tonight’s the dress rehearsal for Hamlet. The cast has changed yet again and our time runs too long. Calamity befalls all productions, right up until the lights come up, and ours is no different. Right now we long for the routine, for the comfort and thrill of being in our stride. Until then it’s stress and unease, a sense of impending doom and the nervous banter that precedes unanswered questions.
04 August 2009
It's like those images, memories, visions and experiences are like sea glass, or skimmers. They need time in the head to be worn, smoothed, softened and perfected in their shape. Pounded by the tumultuous waves of thought, worry and reflection until flawless, until every single syllable lies with the accidental perfection that comes with the musing of time.
Only after all that can they be written.
22 July 2009
19 July 2009
18 July 2009
11 July 2009
Luke doesn’t smoke, but he steals a lot of cigarettes. It’s a habit we used to share. I was more honest about it. I admitted I was a smoker but was usually too broke to buy my own. Luke’s a drunk smoker. After x number of beers (or bottles of wine, measures of whisky, etc. etc.) he starts chaining somebody else’s cigarettes. Usually they’re his brother’s. Marcus is younger and as such tends to put up little resistance to this mooching.
We sat in the pub opposite the British Library and drank away our hangovers, the three of us, and Luke looked in horror as Marcus started rolling a cigarette.
‘What the fuck’s that?’
‘That’s no good – you’re going to have to roll two every time.’
My hangover was particularly pronounced at this point, and I contributed little. There wasn’t much to add, really, just the odd chuckle. I rubbed my eyes a lot, and scratched my stubble – those little physical tics that seem to accompany the morning after.
Luke looked smart in a bespoke pin-striped suit, Marcus shabby in a blazer better-suited to a down-on-luck pensioner cracking open a tin of special brew. I wore shorts, flip-flops and a wrinkled shirt. I stood out a bit.
‘There’s a beer garden in the British Library.’ Luke’s kernel of information grabbed our attention. The bartering for cigarettes ceased. My beer slowly did its work and my hangover subsided. I stopped rubbing my eyes, though I still scratched my stubble occasionally.
‘Really?’ – Marcus and I, in chorus.
Beer garden was a bit of a stretch. There’s a terrace adjoining the café, and the café sells beer. Still, we pondered, it was theoretically possibly to organise a piss-up in the British Library. This delighted us. We set about a rough plan for such an event.
We’d have to be there for research. We agreed that the beers should be some manner of self-reward – we should do an hour or so’s worth of work before getting hammered. Luke chuckled mischievously, Marcus wandered outside to smoke his roll-up and I went to the bar to get another round in.
Walking back from the bar I was disappointed to find the table of pretty girls next to us had decamped and disappeared into the thronging London streets. Talk moved away from research-inspired drinking binges and into the generalities of life. Marcus and I described the antics of the night before to Luke, explaining the source of our hangover. Marcus drank slower that I did. I poured more ice into his cider and watched the sudden fizz as the new cubes splashed down. He rolled another and we watched them call the cricket for rain, after Australia pulled ahead of England. Marcus and Luke are big cricket fans; my interest casual at best. I turned around to check out the table of ladies and cursed, forgetting they’d left. Marcus placed his rollie on the table and Luke looked down on it with barely concealed contempt.
I looked at my watch and took another sip of beer. Time for the next pub. The British Library?
Not this time.
As we left, Luke clapped Marcus on the shoulder.
‘You’re going to be rolling a lot of cigarettes tonight.’
22 June 2009
21 June 2009
20 June 2009
25 March 2009
23 March 2009
16 March 2009
09 March 2009
05 March 2009
20 February 2009
I've been pondering ghosts and shadows and trying to work out the difference between motivation and purpose. Destiny and humanity play their part.
I've also been reading a lot about baseball.
17 February 2009
A few days ago my flatmate and I threw a baseball around in the afternoon sun. Walkers were out in force, along with their dogs or partners, sometimes both. We got the odd look - baseball is uncommon in Scotland. The banter was about baseball; chat regarding the Red Sox and Spring Training, the state of the team and the league. In the afternoon sun the summer seems close and spring even closer.
The next morning I woke up to a ghostly grey light from the window. I staggered, yawning, and saw the harbour veiled in white, a deluge of snowflakes whipping past my window. It was still early, most of the snow untouched. I snapped a bunch of pics on my wanderings to and from work. As enthralling as the weather was the reaction to it. Every spare patch of snow found people building snowmen, every hill and incline found sledgers with hastily purchased and sometimes makeshift, improvised vehicles. It was like rain in the dessert; grown men and women sticking out their tongues to catch the snowflakes, the whistle of the odd snowball flying by my ear.
And now it's a grey day with calm, whispering seas. There's no sign of the snow. The lonely mounds of former snowmen, the last reminders of winter's last(?) hurrah have all melted away, leaving carrot noses and branch arms looking out of place and odd on their patches of grass. Former limbs are now just debris.
I look back on the last few days, from the afternoon sun to the fleeting blizzard and now to the mild calm, and I find some memorable nuggets. I took my UK citizenship test yesterday, and passed. Failure frightened me more for the ignomony than anything else. I can't mention the questions I was asked due to some sort of confidentiality agreement. They don't really matter. I knew the vast majority of them. I checked aftwards and think - think, mind you - I only got one wrong.
There's a ways to go yet. Passing the test is the first step towards UK citizenship. I've been here for 20 years and it's taken me this long to start looking towards getting a passport. It's always been on my mind. I don't think you can live more than half your life somewhere and not be changed somewhat by it. I think that duality suits me. It's not that I'm more American than British, or the other way around. I'm not entirely either, really. Ideas of loyalty and patriotism frequently confound me, though moreso how misaligned the judgement of those qualities seem to be. Instead I'll stick to my ideals, and remain loyal to those. I think that makes me a more valuable citizen of either country, and soon to be both.
Conflict will always exist, no doubt. I'll bristle at the odd barb against the States, especially those steeped in ignorance. Complaints about peculiarly British traits will continue to irk. But I've made peace with these things before, quite successfully. I remain intensely curious about both countries, their startling similarities and their vast chasms of difference.
It's just a piece of paper, a passport, a small sheet of legitimacy. Recognition for the duality I accepted a long time ago. It means little or everything, depending on my mood.
It's just me, standing on a beach on a grey day in Scotland, throwing a baseball while the sea whispers and fizzes, smiling at the odd looks cast my way.
15 February 2009
07 February 2009
My desk sits in the corner of my room, to the left of the window. If it faced out the window I'd do nothing but stare. It's a hexagon. To the right lies a haphazard pile of manila envelopes filled with bank statements, car info, health documents, assorted 'important docs', receipts, demands, final demands and all manner of paper trail. More organised people would file these things. I move the envelopes behind the curtain and occasionally look frantically through them after a phone call from a withheld number.
The slide-out keyboard tray holds no keyboard. Submission chapters scrawled with red and black ink, redrafts and new additions to the final chapters of my novel, early-stage cover letters, more important documents and final demands and the first few sections of a Phd I'm editing sit there. They sit there because they are of immediate concern. If this were an office, they would be labeled 'urgent'.
There are no drawers in my desk, only shelves. One shelf carries several copies of submission chapters so poorly edited that I should just use them as scrap paper. I feel environmental guilt when I think about that shelf. It also holds various spare stationery items - envelopes and the like; Conqueror paper for important letters, printer paper for producing yet more poorly edited print-outs of submission chapters; it is the shelf of dead trees.
Dead laptops adorn the opposite shelf - three of them. Two iBooks and an old PowerBook, with a cylinder of blank CDs to keep them company. I really ought to eBay those sometime soon.
My printer lives on the bottom shelf, scattered spare ink cartridges strewn about and on top of it. I'm not printing much out at the moment, but I should be. Photos, writing, that sort of thing should be printed - pressed into reality from the scattered, fickle electrons on my MacBook.
Six corks lay in various places atop my desk, some from extraordinarily fine wines. I use most of them to prop my keyboard up, as its little feet broke some time ago and those are the kind of spares you never find anywhere. Some of the things here make more sense - my laptop speakers and laptop, my keyboard and mouse, mugs full of pens, staples, thumb tacks, paperclips, and a lollipop with a tequila worm in it. Four notebooks - two moleskin - and two sketchbooks. I've not sketched anything for years and I've only used two of the notebooks thus far. There's a photo of my nephews and assorted pens, a pair of Oakleys, an iPod and a few sets of headphones kicking about. I see another couple of important sheets of paper that I really ought to do something about as well. A quaich full of loose change sits in the corner, occasionally pilfered for the sake of a pint. Some novelty dice also linger amongst things, serving little purpose but to add to the sense of disarray.
And this is my desk reasonably tidy. Not clean or organised, but reasonably tidy.
To the left sits a pile of papers, an odds n' ends shoebox and more incredibly important documents as well as various cables needed to connect various things to my computer and my camera. My specs case is there too, and an unopened packet of drawing pencils. They might explain my unsketched books. I can see my counterpart Driver's License shoved between some untranscribed tasting notes. There's a copy of the lease for my flat underneath. More corks. A disposable camera that's been used but not developed for 5 years.
I cannot imagine what's on there. I'm not sure I want to.
Every time I tidy my desk it's that pile to the left that gets bigger. I tend to just chuck all of it over there.
The detritus on either side, the stuff underneath and the rubbish on top - every once in awhile it gets to me. I sit down to write and find it stunts me. Some people file things for the sake of organisation, for some piece of mind that comes with things being in their proper place, imposing order in a universe that's quite happy with its own order, thank you very much. I need to file things to avoid distraction. Organisation is a luxury, a bonus, but never really a necessity to me. The odd frantic search for a bit of paper doesn't bother me too much. But the odd pointless scrap of bureaucracy can spell disaster. An old tasting note peeking out from under the shoebox will pique my interest and that quickly leads to a wasted 5 minutes, hour, afternoon.
Matter cannot be created, but clutter and endless distractions seem to create, recreate, procreate, duplicate and accumulate without end. Perhaps it's time, finally, after three and a half months, to buy a filing cabinet.
Matter cannot be destroyed.
But it can be hidden.
05 February 2009
I've been thinking about India quite a bit of late.
It was a bit more than six months ago now, though it seems closer. Sometimes much closer. That's not a bad thing, really. I'm still writing it up. I don't know why it's taken so long. It's a peculiar project, writing about India. I can't make that move from pen and paper to the laptop. I'm still scribbling in the Moleskin I bought for the trip - a last minute purchase in Terminal 3 at Heathrow (along with some plug adapters and a couple of pens). I've lost the pens. The plug adapters turned out to be the wrong ones (India has two different plug standards - sometimes more) - I only bought them because I worried adapters I bought earlier might be wrong. Both claimed to be standard in 'Parts of India' and both failed to stipulate which parts.
Anyway, I'm still writing about India. I took notes while I was there, but never really got round to updating the journal during the trip. The notes I tapped into my (then) new iPhone or wrote in block caps on journal pages, marked by asterisks to separate them from my attempt at travel narrative. I have trouble with tense on travel narrative - I slip from past to present often, losing track and often shrugging my shoulders and scribbling onwards. Pen and ink make regret pointless; going back is not an option. It's something I can fix when I type it up, I tell myself.
And I tell myself to keep writing, keep remembering. That's why I cannot abandon my India notebook for the clatter of the keyboard. Something about the pen on paper, something about that curious scratching, keeps my memory sharp, keeps the detail from being lost. The banks of the Gomti in Lucknow, the stench of the Ganges, my constant sense of thrilled unease and total displacement all return as the pen pours.
My tense slips into the past. I'm wary of some of my memories, wondering idly if my mind's eye created a touch of filler for the gaps, writing only the details I'm sure of, leaving the odd question mark. Self-doubt in recollection isn't so uncommon - it gets worse as time goes on, as those brilliant days in July fall further back. Insight's worrisome. Often it's hindsight, something garnered on further reflection as the tense continues to slip. Most of my epiphanies on the trip were simple and probably came to many a traveller before me, if not all of them.
So I keep scribbling. I'm in Lucknow at the moment, touring a school along the banks of the river Gomti. The building amazes me. It seems of no continent: simply a testament to grandeur. It was to be a residence, apparently, but the owner died before completion and willed it to be turned into a school. Bamboo scaffolding adorns one of the wings in some attempt at restoration. There's a permeating damp from the river and the threatening, omnipresent monsoon. The morning began in Delhi and now I'm at the La Martiniere. After that we'll head to the famous Residency, landmark to the Mutiny of 1857. The tour guide drones on and does his best to bore the shit out of me. It's only the second day of the trip and there's so much to do.
I breathe deep and look up from the notebook.
I'm sitting at my table in the flat. It's darker out, but the odd flake drifts by, catching the light. It swirls and twirls and bounces about before disappearing on its course. The flat's empty and my tea's cold. It's not masala chai. I lose India and for a moment all the things of now come back to me and my breath shortens.
Another cup of tea and a glance down at the blue ink scrawled between the thin brown lines. I reread my last page or two.
I've lost track of tense again.
04 February 2009
02 February 2009
Ah... nevermind. Since starting the last paragraph a blizzard has appeared, belting hail and snow against my window with an assaulting, though pleasing, rattle. Already the beach is turning white. In the space of 3 minutes. Even the seagulls look a mite unhappy.
There was a point to this post. I was pondering my morning run in the face of yet another north eastern wind. I wake up and every morning the waves loom larger. The howls, whispers and wails from out my window shriek louder.
*weather update* The sun is now trying to break through, the snow/hail has stopped and already the beach is reverting to its desaturated winter tan. It's been about 6 minutes since the blizzard conditions.
The blizzard's started again.
It's mostly hail now. But as soon as I type that, to spite me, it slips back to snow, and the rattle of falling ice is replaced by the hush that snow makes as it falls.
The sun's out, not a flake in the air.
A mist hangs over the beach, rising lazily towards the sun that lifts it. It's barely above freezing and there's a gale blowing. I can't decide if the weather's reached some level of stability, enough for me to go for my run. The sun hides again and the flakes start to fall and I value the comfort of my flat. No one would blame me if I don't go. I've no whip-cracking trainer, no drill sergeant there to demean me should I choose comfort and warmth.
The wind sounds louder than it did 5 minutes ago. And I still haven't decided whether I'm running or not.
01 February 2009
To add insult to injury, sometimes they shit upon those huddled masses.
I'm surprised it doesn't freeze on the way down. Imagine that: death by frozen seagull shit. You don't get much more ignominious than that.
I write about the weather while I think about all manner of other things. It's always convenient when the elements match the tumult in my head. It gives the illusion of sympathy in nature. If it had been sunny and harmonious today, I may have been grumpier and certainly more resentful. As it was, I found a certain amount of solace in seeing the maelstrom of my thoughts and feelings mirrored by the climatic antics outside.
I could utter all manner of platitudes and metaphors about what ails my head and heart at the moment. It would do me little good. They are not problems unique to me, nor have they been inflicted on me by some nefarious malefactor. For the most part, they're the realities of life, in many cases self-inflicted. Love, loss, passion, purpose and that desperate longing for a pause button.
I looked and I watched the breakers crash, trying to see some manner of symmetry in the waves. It was clear, vivid; I found clarity, if not symmetry.
What I didn't find was answers. More and more I find answers a pointless pursuit, so in that sense it was a bit of a relief. People looking for answers frequently forget the questions. I'll take clarity and good questions over answers any day, even a cold one with a bitter wind-chill, raging seas and gloating gulls.
26 January 2009
Some people are golf people and define themselves as such. It permeates their conversation with other golf people and frequently spills over, inflicting itself upon the silent and weary who don't and never will give a shit about golf. I'm one of those people. Living for so long in a town synonymous with golf has lead me to define myself - to some extent - as not a golf person. This troubles me somewhat, as defining oneself as what they are not seems negative, and vaguely smacks of scientific method. Still, I find it necessary when my own countrymen, visiting to pay homage to this most ancient and adored bastion of golf, stare at me aghast while I explain to them that I don't play their precious game.
It's too cold to play golf anyway. Or even have a leisurely stroll along the putting green. My window has a new frame, an edge of sparkling frost that the heat from my room has as yet been unable to melt. Inside this cocoon of warmth I've meandered through iTunes, putting together a morning playlist: a long overdue endeavour. There are many songs perfect to wake up to though the fuzziness of morning means that often I just hit any old shit. Playlists like this are made on mornings like this. The sunshine cannot but wake you, entice you outside. But the bitter cold halts you in your tracks. Awake and ready but trapped. The playlist is ecclectic, odd even. AC/DC and Nina Simone, Beastie Boys and The Beatles. I'm liking it so far though. Liking the jump from 60's soul to 80's rock to 90's punk rap and back to pop again. I air guitar and sing along while my fingers bang the keys. I'm still in my pj's.
The temperature's risen from -3 to -1. That's celcius. I switch back and forth between celcius and farenheit. When it's cold I feel celcius is more descriptive. 0 is freezing. It's apt. In the summer, however, it falls short. Farenheit must be called on to provide a scale for the warmth. It's hard to think of it as warm when celcius claims it's only 25.
There are more silhouettes wandering the beach now, some with dogs and some without. The frost covers the beach as well, the sand more silver than gold. The lobster boats are all out, checking their traps no doubt. The thought makes me hungry. Munching fresh lobster while looking out over a sun-drenched frozen beach, sipping white burgundy and enjoying the banter of friends.
Most of the lobsters go to Spain, which is of use to no one, except perhaps the Spanish. So I munch on their manchego, pata negra and chorizo while they crunch our crustaceans. It still doesn't seem quite a fair trade, but maybe that's just me wanting something for nothing.
The frost doesn't seem to be melting, in spite of the sun's best efforts. My ecclectic new playlist just pumped out James Brown, Van Halen and Pulp. My mouth's watering but I don't want to eat just yet. The silhouettes seem to prefer the far end of the beach to the near.
It's too cold for a run, but I'll go anyway.